Council eyes fees rise after $20,000 bill for park project

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 30/01/2013

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Facing a $20,000 bill for an abandoned project, a council is contemplating hiking fees for public parks so ratepayers are not subsidising commercial operations.

Greater Wellington regional council is considering introducing fees for applications to lease land in regional parks and forests after incurring a hefty bill for a Rimutaka rail restoration project that never went ahead.

Under current rules it is able to charge only the $175 application fee.

The review of the concessions policy, being considered by a council committee today, calls for fee deposits of $1400 for non-notified and $4400 for notified concession applications. Officer time would then be charged at $110 an hour.

If a hearing was required, organisations would also be charged $2000 for each half day.

Concessions include lease, licence and easements for use of the public land in parks and forests for private or commercial purposes.

The policy also proposes increasing fees for camping and collecting firewood.

Corporate planning manager Luke Tory said the move was prompted by an increasing number of long-term concession applications requiring extra work from council staff and therefore costing more.

"What we're tending to see in the past few years is bigger longer-term applications for more commercial-type uses."

The biggest example was for an application last year to restore the Rimutaka incline railway as a tourist attraction - a proposal that was withdrawn days before council debate on the issue.

That application required more than 300 hours of officers' work, multiple public notices costing $500 a time, about $1250 spent on photocopying, and about $10,000 on legal opinions and experts, Mr Troy said.

"It actually comes to well over $20,000."

Because the current policy only requires the application fee, that bill would have to be picked up by ratepayers even though the application was for a commercial operation on public land, he said.

"It's unfair that that cost is entirely borne by the ratepayer."

The proposed scheme would allow the council to recoup those sort of costs, he said.

Reviewing the policy had also led to other fees being reviewed, and camping fees and permits for firewood collection would increase in line with similar organisations.

The cost of camping at council sites would go from $5 a night to $6 for adults, and from $2 to $3 for children. The cost of firewood collecting permits would go from $25 to $50.

Rimutaka Incline Railway Heritage Trust chairman Hugh McCracken said he was open to the idea of costs being recouped, but any charges would have to be upfront to allow organisations to budget for it.

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"[Otherwise] that's just an open chequebook."

The trust was continuing with plans to build the railway but it was about five years away, he said. If the council approves the policy the proposals will go out for public consultation.

Contact Katie Chapman
Wellington reporter
Email: katie.chapman@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @katiechapman28

- © Fairfax NZ News

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